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Marine Corps Times Nov. 5, 2007
Marine opens home to Iraqi who saved his life
By Michael Hoffman BROOKFIELD, Conn. — Peering through the window of a white SUV parked next to an Iraqi armory, Lt. Col. Michael Zacchea watched intently as the plot to murder him and the seven other U.S. military advisers to the Iraqi army’s 5th Motorized Rifle Battalion got underway. One insurgent and four Iraqi soldiers jumped into a white Nissan pickup truck piled high with rocket-propelled grenades, AK47s, night-vision goggles, ammunition and body armor, all freshly stolen from the battalion’s armory. The plan was to ambush the two Marines and six soldiers sleeping in their bunks next to their Iraqi counterparts and then escape in the ensuing chaos.
Tipped off to the plot a few days earlier, Zacchea called on his most trusted interpreter to help root out the Iraqi turncoats and set a trap to catch the assassins in the act. More than two years later, the interpreter who helped foil the plot and save Zacchea’s life now lives with the Marine officer and his wife in their modest suburban Connecticut home amid other New York City commuters and a world away from the sectarian violence enveloping Iraq. RETURNING THE FAVOR The interpreter — referred to here only as his U.S. military-given code name “Jack” in an effort to protect his family still living in Iraq — is one of a growing number of Iraqi interpreters turning to their Marine connections for help, desperate to escape the death sentence awaiting anyone identified as a collaborator with the U.S. military. Thus far, Jack has avoided being pegged as a “murtad,” the Arabic word for “apostate,” a person that betrays his religion or cause and a title that many insurgents use to vilify Iraqis who work with Americans. Jack saw his family suffer after insurgents discovered that his brother-in-law served in the Iraqi police force. Had Jack’s sister not seen an explosive round come through the window of the house where she lived with her husband, children and another sister and somehow hustled everyone out before it detonated, they probably would all be dead. But the explosion demolished the house and forced Jack’s entire extended family, who lived in the same village and feared a similar attack, to move 150 miles south, away from their hometown on the northeast outskirts of Baghdad. Beads of sweat form on Jack’s forehead as he discusses his family. He is nervous giving details about them and requests that the names of the towns they lived in not be named. To protect his identity, Jack has told only his father and two of his 10 siblings he worked as an interpreter, he said. Everyone else gets the same story: He’s traveling somewhere in Iraq on business for the construction company he worked for before the war started. Jack figured it was only a matter of time before he was identified, especially after Arkan, another interpreter with the 5th Battalion, was killed about a year ago. Insurgents followed Arkan as he drove through Baghdad to his ex-wife’s apartment to drop off their son. After he walked out of the apartment and got back into his car, he was riddled with bullets. Jack served as an interpreter to both Marines and soldiers for 3½ years, but he decided last year it was time to leave. Sitting at Zacchea’s dining room table, Jack, 36, said he foresaw no future in Iraq. He hoped the U.S., the country he’d served since 2004, would return the favor and grant him a visa. Zacchea, who was wounded in Fallujah and received a Purple Heart, is now a member of the Individual Ready Reserve. He left Iraq more than two years ago but never lost touch
with the man who helped save his life. The pair e-mailed each other any time Jack got a break from his translating duties and had access to the Internet. “I used to worry,” Zacchea said. “[Jack] would sometimes not have access to e-mail for months at a time, and I would be very worried about his health and safety.” VISA WOES Jack turned to Zacchea for help to get the necessary paperwork to come to America. After a failed attempt to acquire a student visa, he applied for one of the 500 special immigrant visas for which the Pentagon can nominate an Iraqi or Afghan that worked with the U.S. each year. The number of visas was boosted from 50 to 500 this summer after congressional hearings about Iraqi immigrants last January — which included testimony from an Iraqi interpreter — drew national attention to the difficulty the increased number of Iraqi and Afghan interpreters have had in getting a U.S. visa. The criteria for the special immigrant visa dictates the nominee must have worked for the U.S. for more than a year, received a security screening, paid a $375 fee and been recommended by a flag officer. “Getting that flag officer’s signature is the hardest part of the process,” said Brian Watson, an attorney with the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, who is working with three Iraqi interpreters trying to gain special immigrant status. “There are so many of these translators, but not nearly as many generals to write recommendations.” It took a year — and a signature from Army Brig. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard — to fight through the administrative paperwork to obtain the visa, but Jack and Zacchea were finally reunited after not seeing each other since Feb. 28, 2005. Jack arrived at the Newark, N.J., airport the first week of October after receiving his special immigrant visa at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, Syria, and flying to Qatar and then finally to New Jersey. Now, he’s waiting for his green card to arrive before beginning the job hunt, hoping to eventually earn enough money to bring his wife to America. Jack spoke to her only sparingly while he served as an interpreter and hasn’t spoken to her since June. He says that’s for her safety. FINDING WORK Texas state lawmaker and former Army Capt. Allen Vaught, who has helped one of his Iraqi interpreters move to America and is in the process of helping two others, said finding work can take months. It was four months before Hussein Albayti, Vaught’s success story, received his green card, which many people mistakenly think must be obtained to work legally in the U.S.
Even with his sponsor’s connections to the Texas statehouse, Albayti had to settle for low-paying hourly jobs, including work at a chicken factory with illegal immigrants. Vaught said the translator became so frustrated with his new life in Texas, he came close to boarding a flight back to Iraq just so he could find a job. “Unless someone opens up their home and their wallets, there is no other financial assistance, and it’s going to be really tough for them,” Vaught said. Watson said it’s a common misconception for the interpreters looking for a job to wait for their green card when they simply need to apply for work authorization on their special immigrant status, which takes much less time to get approved and will allow them to get a job faster. Jack rarely leaves the in-law apartment the Zaccheas set up for him on the ground floor of their split-level home, where he waits for his green card and the appropriate documentation to apply for medical insurance and a driver’s license. He hasn’t experienced much American culture since he arrived, but he frequently watches the news on the television in his bedroom for updates on Iraq. “I came here to look for a better life,” Jack said. “Especially for us that worked with U.S. forces, it’s difficult to get any opportunity in Iraq. Even the government of Iraq doesn’t sympathize with us. If I show them my ID card as an interpreter, I wouldn’t be safe.” As for the other Iraqis who Zacchea worked with, the officer said he hopes to help more travel to the U.S., especially the Iraqi officer who first tipped him off to the assassination plot. Zacchea said he feels America has an obligation to help the Iraqis risking their lives to work with U.S. troops, and must do a better job of opening their doors to them. In the meantime, Jack continues to look for a job to help restart his life. But he can’t stop thanking the Marine who helped pull him out of an uncertain future in Iraq. “His body is here, but his mind and his thinking never left Iraq,” Jack said. “We felt that.”
San Diego Union-Tribune Nov. 6, 2007
Court-martial to begin for Marine Corps instructor
The court-martial will start today for a former drill instructor charged with abusing recruits at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. Sgt. Jerrod Glass faces charges of cruelty, maltreatment, assault, destruction of property and failure to obey orders. The prosecution originally issued about 225 counts against him but has consolidated them to 10 as of yesterday.
If convicted, Glass would face 11 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge. He is accused of striking almost every member of his 60-person platoon – some repeatedly – early this year. No one was seriously injured, but at least four recruits ran away from duty.
North County (Calif.) Times Nov. 5, 2007
Helland assumes I MEF command
CAMP PENDLETON -- Lt. Gen. Samuel T. Helland has assumed command of Camp Pendleton's I Marine Expeditionary Force and U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Central Command. Helland takes over for Gen. James Mattis, who held the position for the last year before being promoted to four-star general and assigned a new job at Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va. In his new role, Mattis will oversee war planning, troop allocations and work with NATO partners. Mattis left Camp Pendleton last week and no formal ceremony marking the change of command was conducted. In a final message to Marines and sailors, Mattis told the troops that they have been his inspiration and that he will forever be in their debt. Helland, the former commander of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, will oversee Marine forces throughout the Middle East as head of Marine Forces, Central Command. Helland also takes over the position of "convening authority" under the military justice system, deciding steps in the investigations and prosecutions of Marine accused of wrongdoing related to civilian killings in Iraq and Afghanistan.
United Press International Nov. 5, 2007
U.S. hands over command of Iraqi unit
FALLUJAH, Iraq -- U.S. military officials announced the handover of the 7th Iraqi Army Division command to the Iraqi government. In a ceremony at Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi, Iraq, Marine Maj. Gen. W.E. Gaskin, commander of Multinational Force West, relinquished operational control of the 7th Iraqi Army Division to Iraqi Ground Forces Command.
"You have courageously taken the fight to the enemy in some of the most dangerous portions of al Anbar," Gaskin said in a statement. "Because of your superb war fighting skills, the 7th division has successfully reduced violence from Ramadi to the Haditha triad, from Anah to al Qaim, and to the westernmost borders of al Anbar province. You have put al-Qaida on the run. You have helped make this possible, because you are the brave sons of al Anbar." The 7th Iraqi Army Division is comprised of three brigades and is responsible for security along the western Euphrates River Valley. The division is partnered with Regimental Combat Team 2 and 1st Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team for conducting counterinsurgency operations. "We, the Marines and soldiers of MNF West will continue to share the battlefield with you here in Anbar province and will stand with you shoulder-to-shoulder as brothers to eliminate the insurgency from your home," Gaskin said. "You have proven yourselves time and time again in this challenge, this struggle for the future of al Anbar, for all of Iraq. We will succeed in this battle against terrorists because we will do it together."
Associated Press Nov. 5, 2007
MarSOC recruiters stress maturity, smarts
By Jennifer Hlad JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — When people picture military special operations, many think of Rambo-type men kicking in doors and shooting up bad guys. But Marine Corps Special Operations Command is not quite like the movies or the video games. While MARSOC Marines must pass rigorous physical tests to be accepted, they also must prove their intelligence, maturity and determination, officials said. “We’re trying to find those who can operate on either end of the spectrum; the warrior poet,” said Capt. Jon Hayes, officer in charge of recruiting, screening, assessment and selection. Not just someone who can “kick the door down and kill the bad guy,” he said, but someone who can also feed the village’s children and secure the water supply.
MARSOC is now seeking dynamic thinkers, combat-arms Marines who can meet the physical demands but also “stay true to themselves in an environment where everything is different,” said spokesman Maj. Cliff Gilmore. The active recruiting process has begun. Signs have popped up around base asking Marines whether they have what it takes — then sending them to the command’s recruiting Web site: www.marsoc.usmc.mil/recruiting. It’s part of the process of growing the command that was activated in February 2006 and is slated to reach full operational capability in October 2008. Because the unit is growing as it is building, MARSOC currently is recruiting only Marines who are infantrymen, field radio operators or reconnaissance men for deployable jobs. The goal is to eventually be able to accept any “imminently qualified” Marines and train them in basic special operations skills at the Individual Training Course, scheduled to open in October 2008, Hayes said. The Marines will perform specialized missions, he said, so they need specialized skills. One of the missions they may face: traveling to a country that has asked for help and training that country’s military on infantry skills, marksmanship, land navigation and other skills. The groups of 11 to 14 Marines who deploy on those typically one- to three-month missions go through cultural and language training before leaving the U.S., and may continue to return to the same area to build good relations with the country. The idea is to help countries with fledgling governments or who may have no control over parts of their country take control, so terrorists can’t use the area to their advantage, said Lt. Col. Sean Conley, assistant officer in charge of Marine Special Operations School. “We look at it as winning the war before it ever begins,” said Master Sgt. Casey Pfortmiller, staff noncommissioned officer in charge of recruiting and screening for MARSOC. Of MARSOC’s 18 special operations forces deployments in the past year, 15 were Marine Special Operations Advisory Groups on those types of foreign internal defense missions, Gilmore said. Because the Marines may be deployed in small groups, far away from large support battalions, it is crucial they possess the skills to make the correct moral and ethical decisions in a split second, Conley said. Critical decision-making skills and the ability to adapt and work with other cultures are vital, Pfortmiller said, because special operations units are under a microscope. “The slightest mistake is magnified tenfold,” he said. One example of that these men did not mention but that has made headlines recently is a March incident in Afghanistan that will go before a court of inquiry at Camp Lejeune. A
team of Marines from the 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion opened fire on a road, killing as many as 19 civilians, according to Associated Press reports. Witnesses told Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission the Marines fired indiscriminately, the AP reported. Marines also must realize that, unlike in Iraq or other theaters of operation, the closest help or support may be hours or days away, Conley said. To find the right Marines for the job, MARSOC hosts walk-in information sessions each Friday at 11 a.m., and encourages all interested Marines to apply. Applicants who meet the requirements must pass a physical fitness test and swim test, then psychological and intelligence tests. Next, they go for two to three weeks for assessment and selection in an undisclosed, out-of-state location, Pfortmiller said. “Assessment begins once they get on the bus,” he said. Right now, about two-thirds of the applicants who begin the assessment process leave without reaching the end, Conley said. “We haven’t seen a lot of character flaws,” he said, but many applicants are simply not mature enough to be MARSOC Marines. The course is designed to challenge all levels, he said, and to look at character and determination. Just because someone can perform well on the physical fitness test does not mean he will be successful in selection, he said. Still, the biggest physical disqualifier, Hayes said, is mental — telling themselves they can’t do it. Marines who quit or are disqualified can apply again, and those who pass the selection process can come back to the unit at a later date — such as after they’ve fulfilled a prior unit commitment. The Marines who accept MARSOC’s unique conditions and standards, greater degree of risk and other differences will be exposed to many opportunities they may not have had in another unit — and will see some good fringe benefits, Pfortmiller said. But Conley urged Marines to research the unit before signing up. Many may see it as a “cool” unit, but they don’t actually know anything about what they’d be doing. MARSOC commander Maj. Gen. Dennis Hejlik envisions MARSOC as the force of choice in the special operations community, Pfortmiller said. To join, Marines must volunteer and meet a variety of requirements — including being eligible to receive orders and having a minimum of 36 months of obligated service when they would report to MARSOC.
“We not necessarily looking for a guy who is 6-foot-5, 285 pounds of solid muscle,” Pfortmiller said. “But we’ll take him,” Conley said.
United Press International Nov. 5, 2007
Marines from FAST conduct crisis exercise
MANAMA, Bahrain -- The U.S. Marines' 2nd Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team, 4th Battalion recently began a crisis response exercise in Bahrain. Officials announced 48 Marines from FAST embarked on the U.S. Navy's multipurpose amphibious assault ship, the USS Wasp (LHD 1) for the exercise, the U.S. Navy reported. The crisis response exercise off the coast of Bahrain is an effort to practice humanitarian and disaster relief. FAST sets up perimeters and maintains external security watches in areas captured by the United States for use during crisis response situations when a Marine Expeditionary Unit is not available, the release said. "We set a hard and fast perimeter for the area we secure," Sgt. Matthew Cancience, 2nd fleet FAST platoon guide, said in a statement. "We set a perimeter of the area with Marines on post and set a defensive posture on the area. Our job is to deter, detect and defend, and mitigate anything happening to the area." The 4th battalion, currently deployed to Bahrain, is based out of Yorktown, Va. "This exercise gives the Marines the experience of going from ship to shore to perform their mission," Capt. Andrew Thomas, FAST platoon commander, said. "This also gives us an opportunity to show the commanders what we are capable of in performing during these types of missions and more."
Fox News Nov. 5, 2007
A little bit of stardom for You Tube Marine poet
By Catherine Donaldson-Evans
A Marine poet who wound up on YouTube performing a rap-style piece about the postSept. 11 mission of soldiers has become a minor celebrity in the months since his story was told and identity revealed. Staff Sgt. Lawrence E. Dean II, 30, was first featured on FOXNews.com in August, when he was just an unknown Marine in uniform doing a video on file-sharing site YouTube. Since his 15 minutes of fame, according to the Cherry Point, N.C.-based serviceman, he has gotten an offer for a record deal; has been featured on the BBC; is booked through New Year's to perform at various events; has had his 9/11 poem translated into French; and is cutting a demo tape to send to the HBO/Def Jam Records show "Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry." No marriage proposals or requests for a date, though. And thankfully, no stalkers, either. "Not currently," Dean said, laughing, when asked about proposals and crazed fans. "I haven't received any hate mail or anything like that, either." Before the media attention, Dean was already well known throughout North Carolina, not only for his inspiring poetry but for his compassion and drive. Now, his star has risen a bit. The soft-spoken, polite young man who goes by the stage name "Life" has been flooded with hundreds of letters and emails in the past few months — at least five a day, he said — and plans to answer each one personally. Not surprisingly, it's taking a while. "I'm trying to get to everybody," Dean said. "They say the cup runneth over. It does." The Conway, S.C., native said he turned down an offer for a recording contract from a small label called Fallen Soldiers Records, but he has agreed to perform for countless charity fundraisers, military functions and other events. His weekend schedule is packed through the end of the year. He also wants to be on "Def Poetry" — a late-night HBO show hosted by Mos Def in which poets read and perform their work in front of a live audience — and plans to shoot his audition tape this week. "It's just been real busy as far as spoken-word poetry is concerned right now," Dean said. He also did interviews with the BBC, some military publications including Stars and Stripes and several local TV and radio stations. His poem was even translated into French. The YouTube video of Dean reciting the poem he wrote about fighting for freedom became a cult hit on the site, capturing about a half a million views in only a couple of days and later getting close to a million.
In it, the aviation electronics specialist, who hasn't been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, talks not about what it's like to be at war, but why the armed forces answer the call to serve. "We just defend the country, no questions asked," Dean explained in August. He wrote the poem more than two years ago, when his grandmother challenged him to express what would compel him to fight. He'd already been profoundly affected by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and a subsequent visit to Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers used to stand in downtown Manhattan. Click here to see the YouTube video and read the full text of the Marine's rap. The 12-year career Marine recited the poem on camera last year, when a young, fellow serviceman asked him if he could film him so that he could send the video to his parents to explain why he was going to war. Unbeknownst to Dean, the clip was then posted on YouTube, presumably by the other Marine, and slowly made the rounds on the videosharing site. "She called," Dean says in the videotape as he stands before a U.S. Marine Corps crest hanging on a barracks wall. "From the bowels of Ground Zero, she sent this 911 distress signal because she was in desperate need of a hero ... and said, 'I am America, and I’m calling on the land of the free.' So they answered." Among the charities he's agreed to recite his poetry for are the American Cancer Society and The More Foundation for underprivileged children. He opened for a military basketball tournament on base over the weekend. Dean isn't interested in a record contract for now. It's all he can do to keep up with his performance schedule and his duties as a Marine. He said he's grateful that his experience with YouTube and the resulting publicity have been so positive. "It's been a real blessing," Dean said.
LA Times Nov. 6, 2007
Change is constant for military families
BY TONY PERRY As Heather McKay watched her husband and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Derek McKay set sail for six months Monday aboard the transport ship Cleveland, she summed up the challenge of the modern military spouse.
"Last time when he got home from deployment, I'd gotten all independent and he said, 'Hey, you're not letting me make the decisions,' " said McKay, 24. "He's been home awhile and I've gotten clingy again. But now he's leaving and it starts all over again." If one word describes the life of military families since Sept. 11, it's adjustment. It's an emotional and psychological adjustment for the family when a Marine or sailor deploys, and another emotional and psychological adjustment when he or she returns. Sometimes, in the up-tempo deployment schedule, it seems there's barely time to adjust to one phase when the cycle begins anew. And while it might seem counter-intuitive to civilians, many military spouses say the homecoming phase can be the most difficult. With that in mind, the military provides "return and reunion" briefings to both the stay-behind and deployed spouses. "When they come back, it's like starting your marriage all over again," said Brittney Moore, 35, whose husband, Petty Officer 2nd-class Robert Moore, left on the transport ship Germantown for his fourth deployment. McKay and Moore were among hundreds of family members at the pier at the 32nd Street Naval Station as the Tarawa Expeditionary Strike Group left for a six-month deployment in the Western Pacific, Indian Ocean, and, if ordered, the Persian Gulf. Three San Diego ships will join two from Pearl Harbor and one from Everett, Wash. -- 5,000 sailors and Marines in total. If the tears shed Monday morning were tears of anxiety and sadness, those shed by military family members Sunday night at Camp Pendleton were tears of happiness and relief as 300 Marines and sailors of the "Gunfighter" helicopter squadron returned after seven months in Iraq. As they waited for the buses bringing the Marines from their chartered flight, spouses talked of the joys and pitfalls of homecomings. Michelle Rindfleisch, 23, whose husband, Sgt. Benjamin Rindfleisch, was finishing his second tour in Iraq, told spouses whose loved one is returning after a first tour to take things slowly. "Don't ask, ' What happened over there?' Don't try to push, let him absorb things slowly, and talk if he wants," she said. Before they left Iraq, the Marines were counseled that their spouses, by necessity, have become more independent and less likely to accede to their partner's authority. "When he comes home, he's going to have to realize that his wife is older and different than when he left," said Stacy Mergen, 26, whose husband, Sgt. Christopher Mergen, is
finishing his third tour. "And she's going to have to realize that he may have changed. Don't throw the kids at him right away." As deployments wind down, stay-home spouses are bombarded with pamphlets and emails and offers of assistance from chaplains, counselors and spouses who have been through the deployment cycle. "Marriage is more than just sharing the remote control," said Sheena Buteau, 24, whose husband is Cpl. Joshua Buteau. There is also the specter that a Marines' experiences might haunt them and their family. "PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is extremely hard on both spouses," said Susannah Schroder, 21, as she waited for the return of friends in Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 369. At pier-side Monday, volunteers handed coloring books to children to explain why their father or mother is leaving. Last-minute pictures were taken, and kisses exchanged. As difficult as the leave-taking was, the homecoming will have its own difficulties, spouses agreed. "Your man will have changed, you will have changed," said Christine Lee, 37, whose husband, Petty Officer 2nd-class Timothy Lee, was holding their 4-year-old daughter Brianna. "You'll be more independent, he'll want to pull in the reins. It takes time." Even before the amphibious ship Tarawa, the largest in the strike group, left the pier, circulars announced a support meeting for families in three weeks. "It's definitely a difficult life to maintain," said Command Master Chief David Selmier, the top enlisted man in the Expeditionary Strike Group Three, who has spent 27 years in the Navy.
Chicago Tribune Nov. 4, 2007
U.S. embraces Marine son who swore to protect it
By Russell Working It was a scene made for a 4th of July TV newscast: an auditorium filled with immigrants from 72 countries, all gathered to swear the oath of U.S. citizenship. Several young men in front were in military uniforms. The rest wore their civilian best: ties with American flag clasps, a dress with a red-white-and-blue corsage, African garb, a Muslim head scarf, dark polyester suits a Balkan cabdriver might wear. One new American strode onstage to lead everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance: a 21year-old Marine in a jarhead buzz cut and his "service Charlie" uniform. He was Lance
Cpl. Sergei Working, my stepson. "I know we've all been waiting for this for years," Sergei, who is assigned to a Marine Corps legal unit at a Navy base in nearby New Orleans, said to the others being sworn in, "I would like to thank the American people who have been so generous to us in accepting us as their own people." And then he began, pausing in places that showed he had not been reciting this all his life: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America... It had been a long journey. It began in 1997 with my move to Vladivostok, home of Russia's Pacific fleet, where I had a girlfriend I had met when she visited the United States through a State Department program for journalists. Nonna, now my wife, had a 10-year-old son who embraced me as a father and was eager to learn American football. But Sergei refused to speak his schoolbook English with me. "When we're in Russia, we should speak Russian," he would say. We moved to the States in 2003, and soon Team America evened things out with the birth of Lyova, who has just turned 4. And in a new country, themes familiar to immigrants of every generation began to play out in our home. Sergei began to speak English at the dinner table as he told us about an American history test or the shin splints he had gotten during football practice. Soon Lyova, whose earliest phrases were in Russian, had to be prodded to speak his mother's native language. Sergei began to acquire a feel for American culture. He would explain an AfricanAmerican expression to his mother or tell us about students at his Oak Park school wearing pajama pants and even bunny slippers to class. Like his mother, Sergei had inherited a former Soviet citizen's cynicism about flag-waving and overt patriotism. Yet he scoffed at those here who talked of moving to Canada in 2004 because they didn't like the outcome of a democratic election in a free country. Russia is a good place to come from if you want to be grateful for all that the United States offers. In Vladivostok, we lived like the majority of people -- physicians and factory workers alike -- in prefab concrete high-rises that in some ways resemble American inner-city projects. Rats scurried about in the stairwells, and every so often you had to step over a drunk sleeping on a landing. There was no way of avoiding the cold and dark in the winter. You could see your breath indoors when the temperatures outside plunged to minus 35. Electrical blackouts lasted 16 hours a day for months at a time. Sergei used to do his
homework by candlelight. No wonder Sergei -- when he looks at the shiny skyscrapers of Chicago or the French Quarter's balconies overhung with lush foliage -- often says, "I love it here in America." America also offered him an intangible: freedom. In Russia, Sergei used to listen with wide eyes as his newspaper reporter parents described how armed police had shut down a radio station critical of the governor, or how thugs had kidnapped and strung up our colleagues and stubbed out lighted cigarettes in their skin. After a visit to St. Petersburg, Nonna and I told him that police were stopping teenagers little older than Sergei and press-ganging them into the military. Given all this, it's a little easier to understand immigrants' passion for this place we natives enjoy carping about. Expanding education, horizons After finishing boot camp in May 2006, Sergei moved to Rhode Island to learn how to transcribe court proceedings, and then he worked as an aide at the base. Last summer he was assigned to the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate for Marine Forces Reserve at the New Orleans Naval Support Activity base. The office handles cases that can range from rape to the kind of schemes that criminal minds everywhere have a talent for dreaming up. One Marine stole a buddy's accordion and pawned it using his military ID, said Maj. Sean Dunn, one of the lawyers in the office. "When the judge asked him why he stole the accordion, he said he was tired of hearing the noise in the barracks," Dunn said. Sergei has had the opportunity to travel on the job to San Francisco, Texas, Missouri and Florida. And because the corps pays for college courses, he is halfway through the requirements for a bachelor's degree through classes he has taken online and at Tulane University. On the day of Sergei's naturalization ceremony, the entire office emptied out as his bosses and colleagues caravanned from the base in New Orleans to the Alario Center in nearby Westwego. During the ceremony, Lyova kept squirming, squawking and asking questions. "Why does Seryoga look so funny?" he asked, using his brother's Russian nickname. He seldom sees Sergei in uniform. Philip Bace, a U.S. official, asked everyone to raise their hand. Sergei did so. So did the young military personnel in front. Their numbers included Darragh Hogan, a young Irishman from Chicago who was serving in the Air Force.
They renounced all other allegiances, and swore to support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States. Then Bace said, "Congratulations, United States citizens." Nonna and I breathed a sigh of relief. Sergei was finally beyond the reach of his homeland. Service for a land you love Funny how things had turned out: We had gotten out of Russia in part because Sergei was approaching the draft age of 18. Soon after we left, soldiers began knocking at our former apartment asking for Sergei, according to relatives who now live there. The army didn't believe the boy had moved to America. They listed him as a possible draft dodger and promised to return. As a U.S. citizen, Sergei will never find himself selling the corpses of enemy guerrillas back to their families in Russia's squalid war in Chechnya. He won't ever be beaten up by a sergeant, hop the fence with other sailors fleeing abusive officers at a Russian navy base, or end up like the young crewman in Vladivostok whose captain locked him in an ammunition chest until he suffocated. Our war in Iraq carries its own dangers and abuses, but so far Sergei hasn't been deployed there. For reasons he has never fully articulated, Sergei signed up in the defense of his new country before it even acknowledged him as its son. His enlistment has taught me something too, about service on behalf of a land you love. I have gained a newfound sense of respect and humility when I consider all the young men and women who are risking roadside bombs and sniper bullets on behalf of their country. I find myself thanking troops I bump into in airports and convenience stores. After the ceremony, the Marines surrounded Sergei and slapped him on the back, delighted to exploit an opening that Bace had inadvertently provided. When Bace had asked Sergei to lead the pledge, he called our lance corporal son "Private Working." Now Sergei's buddies shook his hand and said with mock-solemnity, "Congratulations, Private Working." "If I had known it would turn out this well," Nonna said, "I wouldn't have been so upset when he joined." We followed the throng jostling out into the hallway. A crowd gathered around a table up ahead. It seemed there was one more form to fill out. A sign on a tripod said, "Jefferson Parish Voter Registration."
Lance Cpl. Sergei Working, American, joined the line.
V i d e o Cl i p s :
(Note: Windows Media Player is needed to view the following clips.)
CBS News (Philadelphia) Nov. 5, 2007
Osprey catches ride to Iraq via Iwo Jima, Philadelphia
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